Cost of scaling-up comprehensive primary health care in India: Implications for universal health coverage

Health Policy Plan. 2021 May 17;36(4):407-417. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czaa157.


India has announced the ambitious program to transform the current primary healthcare facilities to health and wellness centres (HWCs) for provision of comprehensive primary health care (CPHC). We undertook this study to assess the cost of this scale-up to inform decisions on budgetary allocation, as well as to set the norms for capitation-based payments. The scale-up cost was assessed from both a financial and an economic perspective. Primary data on resources used to provide services in 93 sub-health centres (SHCs) and 38 primary health care centres (PHCs) were obtained from the National Health System Cost Database. The cost of additional infrastructure and human resources was assessed against the normative guidelines of Indian Public Health Standards and the HWC. The cost of other inputs (drugs, consumables, etc.) was determined by undertaking the need estimation based on disease burden or programme guidelines, standard treatment guidelines and extent and pattern of care utilization from nationally representative sample surveys. The financial cost is reported in terms of the annual incremental cost at health facility level, as well as its implications at national level, given the planned scale-up path. Secondly, economic cost is assessed as the total annual as well as annual per capita cost of services at HWC level. Bootstrapping technique was undertaken to estimate 95% confidence intervals for cost estimations. Scaling to CPHC through HWC would require an additional ₹ 721 509 (US$10 178) million allocation of funds for primary healthcare >5 years from 2019 to 2023. The scale-up would imply an addition to Government of India's health budget of 2.5% in 2019 to 12.1% in 2023. Our findings suggest a scale-up cost of 0.15% of gross domestic product (GDP) for full provision of CPHC which compares with current public health spending of 1.28% of GDP and a commitment of 2.5% of GDP by 2025 in the National Health Policy. If a capitation-based payment system was used to pay providers, provision of CPHC would need to be paid at between ₹ 333 (US$4.70) and ₹ 253 (US$3.57) per person covered for SHC and PHC, respectively.

Keywords: cost; health and wellness centre; primary health care; scale-up; universal health coverage.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Health Services*
  • Humans
  • India
  • Primary Health Care
  • Universal Health Insurance*